all the single ladies
What follows is the beginning of what we hope will become a series about how we both arrived at the same vocation- marriage- in very different ways. Every person on earth has a vocation, and with every vocation comes a unique story. Since we both can only offer witness to the vocation of marriage, we encourage anyone open to God's call to explore other possibilities. Some of our favorite sites for religious vocation stories and discernment are here, here, and here.
When I was about twelve, I had an all-consuming crush on Rupert Grint, who played Ron in the Harry Potter movies. I’ll spare you the details of my obsession, except to say that I was utterly convinced that we were going to get married. One Sunday, after hearing the Gospel at Mass about having faith "the size of a mustard seed” and moving mountains, I enlisted Kath to pray with me that I would meet him, because “when two or three are gathered, etc.” Clearly there was some serious mental manipulation of Scripture happening. We decided we might as well pray that Kath would meet Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) so that we could all live happily ever after. When we said “Amen,” I felt a rush of certainty that Jesus would hear and answer our prayer. I figured that the best chance I would have to meet him would be during our upcoming family trip to Disney World. There was no way Rupert Grint would be coming to our little suburb outside of New Orleans, so it had to be at Disney.
Obviously, I did not meet my darling Rupert, we did not fall instantly in love, and we are not married and living in a small cottage in Hertfordshire. But it’s important that you know this story, so that you can understand the magic of what actually did happen.
In the summer of 2013, I was not, as they say, living my best life. I was living alone in a tiny apartment in Monroe, Louisiana. No hate to Monroe, but the highlight of this little town was a frozen custard shop. Not exactly the best place to be young and single. I had just graduated from nursing school, experienced a breakup, and started my first job as a NICU nurse. Aside from my new coworkers, I knew no one. I spent a lot of my free time reading, painting, and traversing Target, and I drove home to New Orleans a lot. Kath came to visit me once, and I vividly remember sobbing into her arms about how sad and lonely I was. (Also a feral cat broke into my apartment during her visit. That’s a story for another day.)
I knew even as a little girl that I had a vocation to marriage. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied, “I want to be a mommy and learn how to sew.” It was just a given. On retreats, I would sometimes pray to be open to whatever God was calling me to, but the answer always seemed to be marriage. When I was living alone in Monroe, I often asked God Our Lady’s question, “How can this be?” I had no idea how I would meet someone who would allow me to respond to my call to marriage. So I joined Catholic Match.
If you’ve never had the experience of online dating, allow me to share with you some thoughts I had while perusing the site:
Jeff from Washington D.C. is looking for a physically fit woman who likes dogs. But Jeff only goes to Mass monthly. Why are you on Catholic Match, Jeff?
Mike is looking to find a college educated woman who is HONEST and TRUSTWORTHY. Mike clearly has some old relationship baggage. And some issues with redundancy.
Josh is “a hard working man. That spemds alot of time working..” Work a little harder on your proofreading, Josh.
I set my search parameters to my minimum requirements. They had to agree with all of the Church’s teachings, be childless nonsmokers who had never been married, and be older, taller, and more educated than me. They could live anywhere in the world. When I hit search, I got twelve hits. Six had pictures. I was attracted to three. (I realize how snobby this makes me sound. Just wait. This all will be relevant in a later post.)
I lasted about two weeks on Catholic Match, and I never went on a date. I communicated with my three matches for a few weeks after leaving the site, but since they all lived over a thousand miles away, nothing ever happened.
One afternoon in July, I was painting a picture of a galaxy when my phone rang. It was my college friend Mary with a proposition. Did I want to go on a group trip to Disney World in September? She rattled off a list of names of people who were interested. The only two I knew were Mary and her fiancé Cody, and I didn’t know them very well. Luckily for me, I was at one of the lowest, loneliest, most confusing points in all my life. “Yes,” I said. “I’m interested.”
I can remember it so vividly in my mind. It was after Communion, I was young—probably somewhere between 6-8 years old. The song “Here I am, Lord” was playing, and I knew the words by heart from my years growing up going to Mass on Sunday. So I joined in with the chorus. “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me…” In that moment, I knew God was calling me to do something great. I knew he was calling me to be different, to be set apart. In my heart I felt that this could possibly mean I was meant to be a sister one day. The feeling was so strong, the tugging only my heart so tangible, that it’s one of my most vivid memories from childhood. It amazes me that even at such a young age and without any explicit prompting from my parents or anyone else I could experience this call.
So what happened?
Fast forward from that moment after Communion to about seventh grade. All of my friends were starting to have boyfriends. I did not want to date anyone. I felt like I was betraying myself if I started to be in any sort of “relationship” (whatever that meant for a seventh grader at that time). I definitely was attracted to boys and liked the idea of flirting; I had even gotten used to the idea of talking to a boy on the phone every night. But whenever he’d ask to be my “boyfriend,” something inside of me didn’t feel happy or satisfied. In high school I would associate this seventh grade dilemma to the idea that I was most likely called to religious life. Looking back on it, I realize that I didn’t want to be in a relationship because being 12 years old and in a serious relationship isn’t really synonymous with what Catholics understand dating to be (a discernment of marriage), and therefore isn’t really synonymous with what the human person needs in general. And it was totally normal (and I’d argue an uncommon grace) for me to feel weird dating anyone at such a young age.
In high school, I thought I’d feel better about having a boyfriend because that’s when people are supposed to start having boyfriends, right? But again, I found myself in the same dilemma I had in 7th grade. I just never felt like I could be myself while I was dating in high school. And because I struggled a little bit with chastity in my two high school relationships (if you can even call them that), I started to think that not only was I not called to marriage but also that marriage was just bad in general. My thought was, why would anyone want to get married if marriage is just second best to religious life? And even more, why would anyone want to get married if it’s so hard to remain pure leading up to marriage? I just couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to put themselves through the pain of unchastity from being in a relationship when we have the option of having Jesus Christ as our one and only Love. After all, he would never break my heart. He would never lie to me or make me feel insignificant. He would never ask me or pressure me to do anything I didn’t feel comfortable doing. He would be the one to fill all of the voids I had been left with in my high school relationships. I eventually started to see Jesus as the only one who could love me.
This mentality was both good and bad. It was good because already in high school I had a deep understanding that Jesus was the only one who could satisfy the deepest desires of my heart. The downside to this was that I was very afraid to let anyone love me, even close family members; it paralyzed me from loving others out of fear of being hurt by them. My senior year I spent almost all of my free time in adoration, which was the best place for me to go and ended up being really formative for the faith I have today. But I still just needed to learn to let others in.
By my senior year of high school, I was pretty certain God was calling me to religious life. I had received so many confirmations in prayer and had so many old ladies come up to me after daily Mass to tell me to think about religious life that I thought for sure it was my destiny. (An aside: I know those old ladies meant well in telling me I was called to religious life. They probably never saw a young person in daily Mass and were ready to pounce on the opportunity to challenge me to join religious life; because if I’m young and going to daily Mass I must be called to religious life, right? And though they meant well, this really messed with my head. In high school I was overly scrupulous, taking everything as a sign from God that I was called to do this or that. And when people I didn’t know told me I had a vocation to religious life, because of my over-discerning mentality, I automatically took it as a sign from God. While there are some who may benefit from these kinds of encounters, they weren’t necessarily good for me. God eventually brought good from these experiences, but at the time they brought nothing but confusion and anxiety to my heart.)
At the end of my senior year, I had narrowed my vocation discernment down to one religious order that I was pretty convinced was the right one for me: The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia whose motherhouse is in Nashville, Tennessee (Nashville Dominicans). Their charism is beautiful. They have a love for music, and they’re contemplative and active, praying for a majority of their day while using the rest of their day to do ministry like teaching. I felt called to be a teacher, was spending hours in prayer every day at that point in my life, and loved singing. And the sisters all seemed so beautiful and happy (they totally are), which attracted me to them even more. On paper, it was 100 percent the right order for me. The next step was to go on a come-and-see weekend, for which I left on the day after I graduated high school. The minute I got into the airport, I was sick to my stomach. I felt nervous, anxious, scared to be away from my family. I had been away from my family before and for even longer than the four days I would be away on this retreat, but never had I experienced such anxiety, uneasiness, and homesickness. The whole retreat I was miserable. I kept thinking of ways I could sneak out and go home early. At the same time, I “knew” this was where God was calling me, so I thought my anxiety was coming from the devil. When the vocations director told me it’s possible I may not be called to their order or even to religious life, I thought for sure she was being influenced by the devil who didn’t want me accepting my vocation (because I was clearly holier than her—who did I think I was, St. Therese??!?! That lady knew exactly what she was talking about). One day while on this retreat, a wife/mom who lived in the area brought sandwiches to us for lunch and talked to us about being lay associates to the Nashville Dominicans. The whole time she was there, I felt at ease, like she was living the life I wanted. I wanted desperately to leave with her so I could feel better after being so tense the whole weekend. (As I’m writing this, I want to just shake my old self and say, “HELLO, CAN’T YOU READ THE SIGNS FROM GOD HERE??) By the end of the retreat, since the vocations director told me they wouldn’t be able to accept me this fall in good conscience (since I was clearly miserable and not at all ready to join their order), she told me to take a year away from discerning my vocation and to see where God leads me. I felt at peace with this advice, as though I had been let off the hook, at least for a year, from the pressure of discerning my vocation.
As all of this is happening, there was a guy who was pursuing a relationship with me and waiting patiently for me back home. He was a little older and one of the most prayerful people I’ve ever met. I think this is why I trusted him so much. I knew that if he felt called to date me, it was something that he had prayed about and felt right about. He took care of my heart and didn’t make me feel impure or like I was running away from Jesus. He showed me that it was possible to walk to Jesus together with someone without having that person obscure Jesus from my sight, which was all I had known up until that point. This person was not Jonathan, but he was definitely an answer to prayer…